public health, Trump Administration

Trump budget weakens NC’s ability to respond to public health, workforce needs

President Trump and the GOP want to dismantle the Affordable Care Act and restructure Medicaid, and “American First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again” provides further evidence that they do not want to invest in a healthy and thriving North Carolina. While many North Carolinians may not feel the impact of the provisions outlined in the budget immediately, there are significant threats to public health, our state’s ability to address their health, and capacity to strengthen our healthcare workforce.

In addition to an 18 percent cut to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Trump budget outlines a $5.8 billion cut to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a 31 percent cut to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the only mention of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is in reference to a $500 million block grant to states. These cuts are threats to North Carolina’s public health because the NIH funds research that could help identify innovative cancer treatment, the EPA helps to ensure that rural communities have access to safe drinking water (Note: 80 of North Carolina’s 100 counties are rural), and cuts to the CDC could impact vaccine development for the next epidemic. Read more

Commentary, Trump Administration

Editorial: Save program for undocumented kids

The Greensboro News & Record has a fine editorial this morning that’s worth a few minutes of your time. “Save DACA” highlights the troubling signs that the Trump administration is chipping away at the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — the Obama- era immigration policy that allows kids brought to the U.S. as young children to stay, even if they’re technically undocumented, so long as they stay out of trouble.

After relating the story of a DACA youth who was almost wrongfully deported (the Trump administration said it used its “discretion” to let her stay) and pointing out that the program is still in effect, the editorial concluded this way:

In fact, the agency is following a presidential directive that is still in force. President Barack Obama’s executive order establishing the DACA program was one of his finest actions, making so much sense that Trump hasn’t touched it. At least not officially.

Yet, there are worrisome signs. Asked about the Montes case on Fox News Wednesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said, “The policy is that if people are here unlawfully, they’re subject to being deported.” His statement didn’t acknowledge that DACA status means individuals are here lawfully and should not be subject to deportation.

If Trump overturns DACA, he should be prepared to deport not only college students but members of our armed forces or spouses of military men and women. Also “subject to being deported” will be bright young people who hold professional jobs or are otherwise gainfully employed, paying taxes, starting families and contributing to their communities.

Even people who view all illegal immigrants as “criminals” must recognize that small children aren’t committing crimes when their parents carry them across a border. The children didn’t choose to enter the United States, and by the time they’ve grown up, they don’t know any home other than this country. Yanking them from their American lives and sending them to a foreign “homeland” is cruel to them and bad for the U.S.

ICE has plenty of high-priority illegal immigrants it should target for arrest and deportation. It’s not a matter of “discretion” to leave DACA participants alone. It’s good policy and a presidential order.

Click here to read the entire editorial.

NC Budget and Tax Center, Trump Administration

Three ways Trump’s “America First” budget puts hungry Americans last

When it comes to hunger, North Carolina stands out. Each night, almost 630,000 North Carolina households do not have enough to eat. With 15.9 percent of households being food insecure, North Carolina has the highest rate of hunger on the East Coast, and the 8th highest in the nation. Even amongst North Carolinians, hunger does not impact everyone equally. We know that children, households led by women, and seniors are far more likely to face issues of hunger.

While our state still has a long way to go in eliminating food insecurity, we have made strides in recent years. From 2013 to 2015, the state’s food insecurity rate dropped from 17.3 to 15.9 percent, largely in part to critical federal programs that help put food on the table for North Carolina’s most vulnerable. But with Trump’s proposed budget, these very programs are at risk for cuts and even elimination.

Here are three ways Trump’s budget threatens to increase hunger in North Carolina:

1. Cuts to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children

Trump’s budget cuts the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, known as WIC, by $200 million per year (from $6.4 billion to $6.2 billion). WIC provides healthy foods, formula and baby food, and health care support for pregnant and breastfeeding women, their infants, and children under the age of five. While this cut won’t kick off current participants, it will inhibit WIC’s ability to provide additional programming and services and could prevent WIC from serving new mothers and children in the future.

Last year, WIC served over 240,000 North Carolinian women and children each month and provided more than $123 million worth of food. In North Carolina, WIC has contributed to a drop in newborn Medicaid costs, increasing the likelihood of children receiving regular and preventative health services; lowered infant mortality rates; and is responsible for improved education performance for children.

2. Elimination of the Community Services Block Grant

The proposed budget completely eliminates the Community Services Block Grant (CSBG), a $718 million program, which supports local organizations working to alleviate poverty, hunger, and joblessness across the nation. In North Carolina, CSBG funds 35 Community Action Agencies that service 97 of NCs 100 counties, funneling nearly $21.5 million into high need rural, urban, and suburban communities. While CSBG funding supports a wide array of activities, one critical service is its role in providing emergency food assistance. These funds are used to organize and operate food banks, support North Carolina’s Meals on Wheels program, fund nutrition and food preparation counseling services, and even support community and urban gardens.

Nearly 40 percent of the 120,000 North Carolinians who are supported through CSBG funds are children, 20 percent are seniors, and more than 10 percent are individuals with disabilities.

3. Elimination of 21st Century Community Learning Centers

The budget seeks to eliminate 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC), a $1.2 billion program that provides before-, after-, weekend-, and summer school academic enrichment. In North Carolina, this would mean a loss of $22.3 million to 68 school districts, local governments, and non-profits that currently operate these academic enrichment programs. Although increasing nutrition and access to food for children is not an explicit goal, these learning centers play a critical role in eliminating the food gap many children in North Carolina face. Last year, nearly 750,000 children in North Carolina received free or reduced-priced meals. Before and after school and during the summer, many of these children and their families are at risk of being food insecure. Meals provided at after school and summer enrichment programs are an extremely important and efficient tool at addressing childhood hunger.

The Trump Administration argues that 21st CCLC “lacks strong evidence of meeting its objective, such as improving student achievement.”. That’s not true. A 2014 evaluation of North Carolina’s 21st CCLC program proved that students who participated in the program saw larger and faster improvements on standardize testing scores than students who did not participate.

If we really want to make America great, we have to ensure that no American goes to bed hungry. Investing in these important and proven programs is critical for the health of our children, our economy, and our nation.

Commentary, Trump Administration

Yet another disastrous Trump budget proposal: Slashing low-income energy assistance

Imagine: It’s January, and your car — the car you share with your partner to get to and from work — has just broken down. It has not been a particularly cold winter, but the apartment you rent is not well insulated so it is generally miserable unless you turn the heater up high. Upon arriving home you discover that your heating bill has arrived and it’s three times what you can afford. You will now have to choose whether to pay to get your car fixed so you can get to work, or pay the heating bill or risk a shut off by the gas company.

Thousands of low income families in North Carolina and across the country have to make these types of decisions all the time. This is why the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) exists – it provides critical monetary support to families who need help paying their energy bills. It is also, not surprisingly, one of the programs the Trump administration’s budget blueprint proposes to eliminate.

LIHEAP is an important program for our most vulnerable communities – particularly the elderly and the disabled – who are most susceptible to extreme heat and cold. These folks and low-income families often live in lower quality housing and have disproportionately high energy burdens, meaning they are paying more than 30% of their incomes in energy bills. LIHEAP provides essential relief to families who are struggling to pay their bills, and commonly have to make difficult decisions about which essential service they will be able to pay for from month to month – e.g. prescription refills or the heating bill?

In North Carolina, LIHEAP served over 191,000 households in 2016. Out of these households, 33% included an elderly person, 35% included someone with a disability, and 22% included a child under five years old. A typical family of three receiving LIHEAP assistance has a combined income of less than $17,000 a year.

The Trump administration believes that LIHEAP is ineffective – but LIHEAP’s main success is in supporting families with short-term energy emergencies. A LIHEAP family with an elderly grandparent living in the home may be experiencing a particularly cold winter and running an inefficient heater more than usual, resulting in a higher energy bill. The grandparent may also need extra medical care because of the colder weather, generating another unexpected expense for the family and placing them teetering on the edge of utility disconnection or putting them further in debt. LIHEAP provides the short-term bill assistance needed to get a family through the winter with dignity. LIHEAP also provides families with energy-related low-cost home repairs or replacements, to give these families a leg up beyond just bill assistance.

LIHEAP is a critical part of the social safety net for low-income families, and should be expanded, not eliminated. Since 2011, Congress has cut LIHEAP funding significantly, reducing its purchasing power and its role in maintaining family stability. Currently, LIHEAP is only able to meet 17% of the actual need nationally, and 16% of the need in North Carolina according to the National Energy and Utility Affordability Coalition. It is essential for Congress to support our most vulnerable families first – and programs like LIHEAP do just that.

As with so many of the Trump safety net proposals, let’s hope members of Congress think twice before rubber stamping more cuts to this vital program. You can tweet to #saveLIHEAP to help share this message.

NC Budget and Tax Center, Trump Administration

Nothing has changed: Reviving GOP health care bill would mean more uninsured, costlier coverage in North Carolina

President Trump earlier this week stated that he still wants to reform healthcare in America, even though Congress – with its Republican majority – failed to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) last month. According to Trump, he wants to finish healthcare reform before shifting to tax reform and working on infrastructure.

However, this approach is not feasible as the House Republican health care bill – the American Health Care Act (AHCA) – is not fixable. Almost every piece of the bill would cause people to lose coverage, make coverage less affordable or less comprehensive, or cut taxes for high-income people. The fact that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated the AHCA would cause 24 million people to lose coverage by 2026 says a lot. House Republicans are reportedly considering making the bill worse by rolling back additional ACA rules that currently protect 134 million people with pre-existing conditions and require plans to offer comprehensive coverage.

The proposed health care bill would mean more uninsured and costlier coverage in North Carolina. According to a recent report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:

  • The Proposed Plan Would Shift $6 Billion in Medicaid Costs to North Carolina — And Result in Thousands Losing Coverage and Access to Services

North Carolina would have to raise taxes or cut other parts of its budget by $6 billion over ten years to maintain North Carolina Medicaid under the House Republican health plan.

  • The Plan Would Raise Costs for North Carolinians Buying Marketplace Coverage by $7,549, on Average

North Carolinians, especially older residents, would pay far more under the House bill. The bill would raise total out-of-pocket health costs – premiums, deductibles, copays, and coinsurance – by an average of $7,549 per year for people with coverage in North Carolina’s health insurance marketplace. County-by-county data showing how North Carolinians would face higher premiums and lower tax credits can be found here.

  • Wealthiest North Carolinians Would Get Windfall Tax Cuts While Medicaid Is Cut and Medicare Is Put at Risk 

The House bill would spend more than $600 billion on tax cuts largely for high-income households and drug companies, insurance companies, and other large corporations. In particular, it would repeal the ACA’s two Medicare taxes, which only affect people with incomes above $200,000 ($250,000 for married filers).

Overall, the House proposal is fundamentally flawed because it shifts costs to low- and moderate-income consumers and the states while giving massive tax cuts to people at the top. Removing key consumer protections would only make a bad bill even worse for North Carolinians.